Mo’ Bills, Mo’ Problems To Be Worked Out In Massachusetts Sports Betting

Posted By Matthew Kredell on February 8, 2021 - Last Updated on February 19, 2021

It’s fair to wonder what progress Massachusetts has made entering its third year considering sports betting legislation.

With five bills filed and more to come, lawmakers certainly haven’t gotten any closer on consensus sports betting language.

Sen. Brendan Crighton has the distinction of filing Massachusetts’ first sports betting bill early in 2019. He spoke to PlayMA about his current legislation and what to expect in the Massachusetts legislature this session.

“We’re just focused on our bill and making the case for it,” Crighton said. “We feel our bill doesn’t pick winners and losers. It’s a pretty flexible model that takes the best practices of other states.”

Breaking down Massachusetts sports betting bills

Massachusetts has four sports betting bills with implementation language from Crighton, Gov. Charlie Baker, and Sen. Michael Brady, and Sen. Michael Rush. Rep. Bradford Hill also has a bill that seek to legalize daily fantasy sports while studying sports betting.

Here are the key differences in the four full bills:

Crighton bill

  • Authorizes retail and online sports betting for Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield casinos, Plainridge Park slots parlor, horse racing tracks, and off-track betting parlors, and unlimited mobile-only sports betting operators.
  • There are no racetracks currently operating in Massachusetts. To get a sports wagering license, a new racetrack operator must invest at least $25 million within three years and conduct racing at least 10 days a year.
  • Licensees in any of the three categories pay a $10 million initial fee renewable for $1.25 million every five years.
  • Tax rate of 15%.
  • Prohibits betting on in-state colleges.

Baker bill

  • Authorizes retail and online sports betting for the casinos and unlimited mobile-only sports betting operators.
  • Charges $600,000 in upfront license fees renewable annually for $500,000.
  • Sets a tiered tax rate of 10% for retail and 12.5% for mobile.
  • Bans betting on all college sports and esports.

Bradey bill

  • Authorizes retail and online sports betting for the casinos as well as any racetrack or simulcast facility licensed in 2019 and any DFS operator who has operated in Massachusetts for at least one year and has been permitted to offer sports wagering in two other US jurisdictions.
  • Charges $300,000 in upfront license fees, renewed every five years for $100,000.
  • Tax rate of 15%.
  • Requires the use of official league data for in-play wagers.
  • For wagering on events held at in-state stadiums and arenas, a 1% excise tax goes to those facilities.
  • Includes all college sports and esports.

Rush bill

  • Mobile sports betting must be tied to the three Massachusetts brick-and-mortar gaming properties.
  • Charges $100,000 for the initial license, renewable annually for $10,000.
  • Mandates the use of official league data for in-play wagers.
  • Provides sports leagues a 0.25% royalty on handle for wagers placed on league.

More MA sports betting bills on the way

The bill filing window in Massachusetts usually closes in the middle of January. As a result of last year’s session going a week into the new year, the deadline was extended to Feb. 17.

Sen. Eric Lesser tells PlayMA that he will file a bill prior to the deadline. Lesser chaired the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies that held sports betting hearings the past several years.

“I think what’s needed is just bringing this issue to the forefront,” Crighton said. “Right now, there’s a lot going on with the public health and economic crisis. But people do see this as a revenue generator, one that could provide significant revenue at a time when there’s many urgent needs from our constituents and small businesses.”

Crighton’s biggest issue in other bills is that he doesn’t think Massachusetts can afford to prohibit wagering on all college sports.

“You can’t have a competitive product if you leave college out altogether,” Crighton said. “The whole goal of this is we’ve got to bring consumers out of the shadows and into the marketplace, so we need to make an attractive platform.”

How legalization efforts will play out in Massachusetts

So is the more likely vehicle in Massachusetts the bill from the original bill sponsor, the committee chair who has handled the issue, or the governor? That remains to be determined.

If the governor has put out a blueprint of what he wants in a bill, can lawmakers put a different proposal on his desk and expect to get his signature? Baker is a Republican, while the makeup of the legislature is overwhelmingly Democrat. This gives him less influence over the legislature than most governors.

“My feeling is he would want sports betting done in a responsible way that helps consumers and creates revenues,” Crighton said. “That’s my goal as well. If we get there in slightly different ways, I’m pretty confident he’d still sign the bill.”

Once all bills are filed, Crighton expects them to once again get a hearing in the emerging technologies committee.

“I think all the bills will be on equal footing,” Crighton said. “I think any of these bills could be given a serious look. The best legislation we do is built off collaboration and compromise. I look forward to working with everyone who filed a sports betting bill, including the governor. There are some things I’d like to see in there, but at the end of the day I want the best product for consumers and taxpayers.”

Photo by Michael Flippo | Dreamstime.com
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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